Thursday, 19 June 2014

The Fault in Our Stars (2014)

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I have to admit, I’m a little bit in love with John Green. It’s one of the unfortunate side effects of religiously watching various YouTube personalities. The number of people I’m currently besotted with is getting fairly worrying. However, despite this innocent infatuation, it wasn’t until I became intrigued by all of the hype surrounding his runaway success The Fault in Our Stars that I actually read his books. I don’t think I’ve ever really seen the point of YA fiction. I hardly indulged when I was a member of the intended audience bracket so definitely couldn’t be bothered after I left it. After reading, I was pleasantly surprised. Green’s novel is well written and deals with certain subjects in a sensitive and realistic way. However, I hated his representation of modern day teenagers and felt that some moments were just uncomfortable. Plus, despite the warning from a young colleague of mine, I didn’t find myself turning into an absolute wreck at the end because it becomes painfully obvious where the novel is heading very early on. It’s something that stopped me from finishing Gone Girl and it almost prevented me from making my way through TFIOS.

Of course, these days you can’t go anywhere on YouTube without someone discussing John Green and the film adaptation of his novel. It’s a lovely symbol of the website’s community and it has also ensured that the film is one of the most eagerly anticipated teen films since Harry Potter ended. Watching the gleeful writer update his subscribers on the making of the film has been joyous and, when I sat down to watch the finished product, I don’t think I’d ever believed I such an intense desire for a film to be a success.

The Fault in Our Stars is the love story of two teenagers, which is exactly the kind of tale that would usually have me reaching for the sick bucket. If not even Shakespeare can make hyperbolic teenage romance seem worthwhile then I don’t know who can. However, there is more to the story as both parties are suffering from or in recovery from cancer. So this isn’t exactly your typical banal teen rom-com but nor is it your typical cancer story.

 Hazel Grace Lancaster (Shailene Woodley) has been living with cancer since she was a child and leads a quite life where she relies on an oxygen tank to get about. Pushing her daughter to try and live as normal a life as possible, her mother (Laura Dern) insists on her attending a support group run by a well-meaning but misguided cancer survivor. Luckily, Hazel meets the mysterious and hunky Augustus Waters (Ansel Elgort) and suddenly finds herself on a journey of love, hope and discovery.

Both teens, in an attempt to find an interest outside of their cancer, become obsessed with a book about a girl dying of cancer. In a pretentiously post-modern way, the novel in question, An Imperial Affliction ends in the middle of a sentence. In a thoroughly transparent move that is happily indulged by every sane adult she comes into contact with, Hazel becomes adamant that she has to find out what happens to the family of the sick girl after her literary death so her knight in shining armour (complete with annoying and hollow metaphor) whisks the increasingly ill girl to Amsterdam to question the book’s reclusive author (Willem Defoe). Seriously, what is with the supervising adults in this world?

My main issue with the film, and I guess by association the novel, is that is it very quickly becomes everything it sets out not to be. The opening voiceover suggests that this isn’t the Hollywood cliché where attractive young people fall in love and everything is fantastic. Although, that is exactly what it is. It is an idealistic story of two attractive, witty, clever and unrealistic teenagers who very quickly fall into an all encompassing love. Take the cancer away and you wouldn’t even have a pedestrian teen flick. I mean when you really think about it TFIOS is essentially just Twlight if Edward’s vampirism becomes only having one leg, Bella’s stroppiness becomes cancer, and the evil vampires/werewolves become an alcoholic writer.

John Green knows what he’s doing though. There are a lot of sentiments and phrases that are so beautifully written that you can’t help but get drawn into the story for most part. I mean even a natural cynic like myself can’t quite get over the poetry of the line “I fell in love the way you fall asleep: slowly, and then all at once.” I mean it is shit like that has given birth to my unrequited love for the author. Although, just like when reading a Dan Brown and you know why every chapter ends on a fucking cliff hanger, you do sit there well aware that everything being set in motion before you is intended to rip you (or at least its teenage audience) to emotional shreds.

Of course, I maintain that the most emotional moment in the book and the film is Hazel’s memory of her mother weeping “I won’t be a mother anymore”. Even writing that sentence had me on the edge of tears because, quite frankly, it the adults who are the most realistic characters. Laura Dern and Sam Trammell (who for a really long time I thought was the dad in Gossip Girl and it was really off-putting) were fantastic but underplayed thanks to the dominance of the all important romance.

The film stays incredibly faithful to the book and not always for the better. Upon first reading I found the
scene in Anne Frank’s house kind of weird but Green managed to just about pull it off with Hazel's narration. After seeing it played out on the big screen I have to ask whether it was inappropriate to include it. When Justin Bieber made the stupid move of calling Anne Frank a ‘Belieber’ the world nearly crucified him: this film shows two teenagers casually make-out in the room where people hid from death every day and teenagers lap it up. Now I’m not one to stick up for the Bieb but do we not think there’s something a little fucked up in the logic? All I can say is, if, in the next few years, I find myself stuck behind hoards or horny teenagers waiting for their own special moment in Anne Frank’s bedroom then I’ll know who to blame.

It’s unfortunate that this tale will quickly become the romantic story that all misguided teenagers aspire to find themselves. I understand that everything could have been a lot worse and the main characters, apart from their kind of unrealistic and annoying traits, are pretty positive role models. Gus and Hazel are both intelligent (perhaps too intelligent) and handle their respective situations with maturity and humour. They also have a great chemistry thanks to their portrayal by Woodley and Elgort. I have to admit I had a bit of an issue with Woodley’s character but that probably has more to do with the actress’ fucking stupid comments on feminism recently. As I mentioned earlier, I’m still not completely convinced that the pair represent modern teenagers but I’ll take Hazel Grace and the metaphor wielding Gus over Bella and Edward any day.

TFIOS isn’t the teenage tome of our time and it certainly isn’t the greatest film that has ever been created. There is so much about it that I disliked or found questionable about both sources. However, TFIOS does everything it sets out to do well and it’s hard not to walk out feeling emotionally fraught but with a new outlook on life. Watch it by all means but make sure you take off your rose-tinted glasses off first.

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